Unit 101 Changing sentence focus

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Main points

* You can sometimes change the focus of a sentence by moving part of the sentence to the front.

* You can also change the focus of a sentence by using an expression such as `The fact is’, `The thing is’, or `The problem is’.

* You can also use impersonal `it’ to change the focus of a sentence.

1 In most affirmative clauses, the subject of the verb comes first.
They went to Australia in 1956.
I’ve no idea who it was.

However, when you want to emphasize another part of the sentence, you can put that part first instead.
In 1956 they went to Australia.
Who it was I’ve no idea.

2 One common way of giving emphasis is by placing an adverbial at the beginning of the sentence.
At eight o’clock I went down for my breakfast.
For years I’d had to hide what I was thinking.

Note that after adverbials of place and negative adverbials, you normally put the subject after the verb.
She rang the bell for Sylvia. In came a girl she had not seen before.
On no account must they be let in.

After adverbials of place, you can also put the subject before the verb. You must do so, if the subject is a pronoun.
The door opened and in she came.
He’d chosen Japan, so off we went to the Japanese Embassy.

3 When you want to say that you do not know something, you can put a reported question at the beginning of the sentence.
What I’m going to do next I don’t quite know.
How he managed I can’t imagine.

4 Another way of focusing on information is to use a structure which introduces what you want to say by using `the’ and a noun, followed by `is’. The nouns most commonly used in this way are:

answer, conclusion, fact, point, problem, question, rule, solution, thing, trouble, truth

The second part of the sentence is usually a `that’-clause or a `wh’-clause, although it can also be a `to’-infinitive clause or a noun group.
The problem is that she can’t cook.
The thing is, how are we going to get her out?
The solution is to adopt the policy which will produce the greatest benefits.
The answer is planning, timing, and, above all, practical experience.
It is also common to use a whole sentence to introduce information in following sentences. See Unit 102 for more information.

5 You can also focus on information by using impersonal `it’, followed by `be’, a noun group, and a relative clause.

The noun group can be the subject or object of the relative clause.
It was Ted who broke the news to me.
It is usually the other vehicle that suffers most.
It’s money that they want.
It was me Dookie wanted.

There are many other ways of focusing on information:
Ted was the one who broke the news to me.
Money is what we want.
What we want is money.

6 You can also focus on the information given in the other parts of a clause, or a whole clause, using impersonal `it’. In this case, the second part of the sentence is a `that’-clause.
It was from Francis that she first heard the news.
It was meeting Peter that really started me off on this new line of work.
Perhaps it’s because he’s a misfit that I get along with him.